Title: Charles L. Heyde to Walt Whitman, April 1866
Date: April 1866
Source: The transcription presented here is derived from Charles L. Heyde, Faint Clews & Indirections: Manuscripts of Walt Whitman and His Family, ed. Clarence Gohdes and Rollo G. Silver (Durham: Duke University Press, 1949), 222-23. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.
Location: Trent Collection of Whitmaniana, Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
Whitman Archive ID: duk.00388
Contributors to digital file: Elizabeth Lorang, Janel Cayer, Brett Barney, and Vanessa Steinroetter
Your letter to Han was recd and duly deliverd. She is I1 think, better than for a long time past. Only one new vargary has originated with her, and that is that I shall go away; rent the house to her, and she will take boarders; there is but one step from this to insanity—
Han has an idea that she could accomplish that for 3 or 4 persons, easily, which she has, under no circumstances, done for me, not ten times in as many years. I have just taken up a note against the property: and I think that with reasonable success I may clear it all, by next Spring. But the idea that Han runs the house and I am but the secondary drudge must be dismissd
I see but one way to bring this matter into a realizistic shape or condition, and that is, to take her at her word; "to go away" and put the place and herself under the guardianship of an attorney.
Much of this difficulty has arisen from the miserable teachings of her mother, who enjoined upon her, when we were first married not to perform these little services for me, which naturaly would suggest themselves to a kind and considerate wife, and endear her to her husband: Because I might be spoild, by it.
Mrs Whitman has been toward me, a silly old woman—for why I do not know—I never was under obligations to her for anything. If she brought a half loaf of bread to my house, she took butter or tea away in return for it, and I never had a meal at her table that I did not pay for. But Mrs Whitman never did possess a particle of honest frankness—on the contrary, in one instance, I will not her[e] mention, a more than mean, a wicked duplicity toward myself.
Perhaps I would not look upon "Leaves of Grass" with so much melancholy regard, if I was not experiencing a practical version of it: Irregular—disorderly: indifferent or defiant—the lower animal instincts—no accountability. no moral sense or principle—No true, inherent, practical sympathy for anything; myself; disappointments, or endeavours. Nothing of me, or of the future to arise for me, out of my labour, and progressions.
Han has no more moral sense of marriage than an Ethiopian, of the field—Gives herself to a man and nothing more—Your letters and those of her friends shall be allways forwarded to her. I am simply disgusted with so much selfishness—
C L Heyde
There is one more change, to the last notion of Han's, and that is "She" can go "home," and cook for her mother: "her mother said so." She sometimes says that she has no friends. I believe it, since this "home" is offrd, in a menial capacity, and the service that is imagined can be extracted from her. My idea was, that, if I did go to Europe, "to let her board, in the most comfortable manner, and raise herself from ill health and drudgery—
1. Charles Heyde, a landscape painter, was the husband of Hannah Louisa Whitman, Whitman's younger sister. They married in 1852 and lived in Vermont. [back]